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Cold Broccoli Soup
By Charlie Burke

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Broccoli is now in season, and recent reports reveal it to be one of the healthiest
of vegetables. It has a poor reputation because many of our mothers overcooked
it, making it strong smelling and bitter, but, cooked properly, it has a pleasant
cabbage-like flavor which lends itself to many preparations.

When the first of this year’s broccoli appeared at a local farm stand, we bought a
large head which I decided to make into soup. The temperature was in the
nineties, so a cold version was in order.

Cold soups are favorites of mine because they capture the essential flavors of the
ingredients, are simple to prepare, and, because they require minimal cooking,
healthy vitamins and anti oxidants are preserved. They make a refreshing light
lunch or first course and can be prepared so that they contain few calories,
making them flavorful additions to any diet.

I make many cold vegetable soups and have found that using water as the liquid
accentuates the elemental flavors of the ingredients, while stock or broth lessens
their intensity. These recipes all start with sautéing aromatic vegetables in oil or
butter, and briefly boiling the water with the sautéed vegetables ensures that the
soup will not lack fresh flavor.

The broccoli is boiled in heavily salted water until it just begins to soften,
pureed in a food processor with the sautéed vegetables and water, and then
thinned with additional water if necessary. Use a blender if a smoother soup is
preferred, while the processor version has more texture. Many recipes call for
addition of a small volume of heavy cream to add richness, but I like to let the
tastes of the fresh vegetables stand on their own. Acidity brightens and freshens
flavors, and the trick of adding a few squeezes of lemon juice or a tablespoon of
mild white wine vinegar can make a surprising difference in cold soups.

Four servings:

1 large head of broccoli, soaked in cold water and divided into 3 or 4 large
segments
3 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 carrot, chopped
1 medium onion or leek, chopped
1 medium stalk of celery, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
½ teaspoon cayenne
½ teaspoon powdered cumin or 1 teaspoon cumin seeds (optional)
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black or white pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Approximately 4 cups water
Lemon juice of mild white wine vinegar to taste

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and add ¼ cup of salt (the water
should taste salty).  Add the broccoli and cook for approximately 5 minutes until
a thin knife can penetrate the stalk with medium resistance – do not overcook.
Drain the broccoli in a colander and run it under cold water to prevent further
cooking.

Heat a sauté pan over medium heat and add the olive oil. When the oil
shimmers, add the carrots, garlic, onion, celery, cumin and a light sprinkle of
salt. Adding salt now draws liquid from the vegetables, helping prevent them
from browning. Cook, stirring until the vegetables have softened, add the tomato
paste and cayenne and cook an additional 2 minutes.

Add a cup of water to the sauté pan, heat to boiling and then pour the water and
sautéed vegetables into the pot used for the broccoli. Add the remaining water,
bring to a boil over medium heat, then lower the heat and let the vegetables
simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and add the broccoli to the
water to warm it.

Puree the soup in batches in a food processor or blender (hold the cover of the
blender on with a towel to prevent the hot liquid from escaping when the
blender is turned on).

Place the pureed soup into a bowl and add salt and pepper to taste. Slightly
over-salt the soup because when it is cold the flavor of the salt is muted. Add the
lemon juice or vinegar in increments, stirring and tasting with each addition
until the flavors become slightly sharper and brighter. Add more water, if
needed, to thin the soup.

Chill the soup (at least 2 hours or overnight) and serve in chilled bowls with a
drizzle of your best extra virgin olive oil.

This basic recipe can be used with zucchini, roasted red peppers or tomatoes,
carrots or other fresh vegetables and adapts well to a cook’s preferences, such as
adding curry to carrot soup or chopped fresh basil before serving chilled tomato
soup. All improve their flavor overnight, so they are perfect for entertaining.

Perfect fresh local vegetables are now becoming available at farm stands and
farmers markets, so skip the produce section of the supermarket and buy your
fruits and vegetables locally. Bring the kids along -- they love meeting the
farmers and learning where their food comes from. Let them help choose
whatever is best in the market, and make this quick recipe with them. It’s a great
way to get them eating healthy fresh vegetables and to teach them to buy locally.

About the author: An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice
president of the
New Hampshire Farmer's Market Association, president of the NH Farm
to Restaurant Connection and helps run the Sanbornton (NH) Farmers' Market.  Along
with his wife, Joanne, Charlie grows certified organic herbs, greens and berries at Weather
Hill Farm in Sanbornton, NH.  
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Cold Broccoli Soup, Photo by Charlie Burke
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